Email updates

Keep up to date with the latest news and content from BMC Neuroscience and BioMed Central.

Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Structural and functional effects of acoustic exposure in goldfish: evidence for tonotopy in the teleost saccule

Michael E Smith*, Julie B Schuck, Ronald R Gilley and Brian D Rogers

Author Affiliations

Department of Biology, Western Kentucky University, 1906 College Heights Blvd., Bowling Green, Kentucky 42101, USA

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Neuroscience 2011, 12:19  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-12-19

Published: 15 February 2011



Mammalian and avian auditory hair cells display tonotopic mapping of frequency along the length of the cochlea and basilar papilla. It is not known whether the auditory hair cells of fishes possess a similar tonotopic organization in the saccule, which is thought to be the primary auditory receptor in teleosts. To investigate this question, we determined the location of hair cell damage in the saccules of goldfish (Carassius auratus) following exposure to specific frequencies. Subjects were divided into six groups of six fish each (five treatment groups plus control). The treatment groups were each exposed to one of five tones: 100, 400, 800, 2000, and 4000 Hz at 176 dB re 1 ╬╝Pa root mean squared (RMS) for 48 hours. The saccules of each fish were dissected and labeled with phalloidin in order to visualize hair cell bundles. The hair cell bundles were counted at 19 specific locations in each saccule to determine the extent and location of hair cell damage. In addition to quantification of anatomical injury, hearing tests (using auditory evoked potentials) were performed on each fish immediately following sound exposure. Threshold shifts were calculated by subtracting control thresholds from post-sound exposure thresholds.


All sound-exposed fish exhibited significant hair cell and hearing loss following sound exposure. The location of hair cell loss varied along the length of the saccule in a graded manner with the frequency of sound exposure, with lower and higher frequencies damaging the more caudal and rostral regions of the saccule, respectively. Similarly, fish exposed to lower frequency tones exhibited greater threshold shifts at lower frequencies, while high-frequency tone exposure led to hearing loss at higher frequencies. In general, both hair cell and hearing loss declined as a function of increasing frequency of exposure tone, and there was a significant linear relationship between hair cell loss and hearing loss.


The pattern of hair cell loss as a function of exposure tone frequency and saccular rostral-caudal location is similar to the pattern of hearing loss as a function of exposure tone frequency and hearing threshold frequency. This data suggest that the frequency analysis ability of goldfish is at least partially driven by peripheral tonotopy in the saccule.